Cafe Society: Yo! Sake

Drinking something that was originally made 2,000 years ago with spit may not sound like the best way to kick off a meal but it's proving popular at one of London's newest restaurants, as Nikki Spencer found out

Tsu, the Modern Japanese restaurant in Draycott Avenue SW3, boasts Britain's first bar dedicated to sake and it is also doing a roaring trade in traditional Japanese rice wine according to general manager Keith Warrick. "An indicator of sake's popularity is that since we opened we have sold more in value than beer and wine combined," he explains.

And this is despite the fact that sake doesn't come cheap - prices range from just over pounds 3 for a house sake to more than pounds 9 for a premium one. "People seem prepared to drink one quality drink rather than two or three run-of-the-mill ones," Warrick explains.

The traditional image of sake is that of a knock-out drink but in reality it has a relatively low alcohol content of between 12 and 16 per cent - more like a wine than a spirit.

"People assume it is strong because in Oriental restaurants they tend to serve hot sake which means it gets into the blood stream quicker, which means you feel drunker," Warrick says.

While in Japan, etiquette still dictates that most sake is served warm, there is a growing trend in a new breed of London restaurants and noodle bars for chilled sake. Nobu, at the Metropolitan Hotel in London's Old Park Lane, prides itself on its ice-cold sake. For many establishments it's the ideal way to snare sake virgins.

TSU, 118 Draycott Ave, SW3 (0171-584 5522) Mon-Sat 12-11, Sun 12-4.

YO! SUSHI, 52 Poland Street, W1 (0171-287 0443) Midday to midnight, seven days a week. The world's longest conveyor belt sushi bar is planning to open a sake cellar next year. A licensed sushi delivery service, Yo! To Go, is in the pipeline.